The state laboratory has obtained an order from the labour court declaring a potentially crippling strike planned for Tuesday unlawful.
The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) provides all the diagnostic tests for patients using the public health sector, including those for Covid-19, HIV and tuberculosis. Three years ago it confronted a devastating strike that forced it to outsource emergency tests to the private sector, and now faces the threat of fresh industrial action from the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu).
The union, which was not immediately available for comment, had planned to go on strike on August 25, over what it described last week as a breakdown in year-long discussions over wages, the failure of management to implement a performance management system, and a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff.
“The labour court has today (August 24) ruled that the strike action planned by Nehawu at the NHLS is unlawful, not in compliance, and in breach of the relevant provisions of the Labour Relations Act,” the NHLS said in a statement issued on Monday evening.
It said Nehawu’s depiction of the issues in dispute was misleading, and the organisation complied with government guidelines for managing the risk of Covid-19 transmission and the provision of PPE. Talks on salary increases were ongoing, and had not broken down. Nehawu is asking for an 11% increase across the board. The NHLS wants to freeze salaries, citing financial constraints and the unsustainability of salary increases demanded by the union.
The NHLS said Nehawu’s claim that it had not implemented a performance management system was incorrect. “This is not true as the NHLS implemented an effective performance management system between 2018 and 2019. The issue in dispute is that Nehawu has demanded that performance assessment scores be rounded off to the nearest ten. The NHLS rejected this demand as it would dilute the scoring processes,” said the NHLS.
The NHLS said it had contingency plans in place, which included agreements with private and academic laboratories to provide diagnostic testing, should the strike not be averted.
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